The Ivy Coach Daily

November 2, 2022

Oboe Players in College Admissions

Chief Justice John Roberts has long been viewed as the custodian of the judiciary’s independence.

Considering joining the Harvard orchestra? While there were many zingers offered by the Supreme Court justices during oral arguments for the Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina cases, it was a line from Chief Justice John Roberts that resonated more than others. That line? It concerned oboe players. That’s right. Oboe players.

As Adam Liptak reports for The New York Times in a piece entitled “Highlights: Supreme Court Hears Affirmative Action Cases From Harvard and U.N.C.,” “Mr. [Seth] Waxman said that many factors contributed to whether students were admitted. ’Race for some highly qualified applicants can be the determinative factor,’ he said, ’just as being an oboe player in a year in which the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra needs an oboe player will be the tip.’ Chief Justice Roberts seemed taken aback. ’Yeah,’ he said. ’We did not fight a Civil War about oboe players. We did fight a Civil War to eliminate racial discrimination, and that’s why it’s a matter of considerable concern.’”

Yes, perhaps Mr. Waxman should have better prepared for oral arguments before the nation’s highest court. Oboe players? Come on now. Why on earth did Mr. Waxman, a former Solicitor General of the United States, cite oboe players? Surely citing legacy applicants or development cases would have been savvier choices to appeal to the court’s majority. But oboe players? Mr. Waxman, you gave Chief Justice Roberts a layup there when you instead could have hit the majority where it hurt — by attacking the very hypocrisy of eliminating offering preferential treatment based on race when these same colleges offer preferential treatment based on family connections and family donations to the schools. Oboe players! We’re shaking our heads. Oboe players.

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